EJF: Thai human trafficking linked to IUU fishing, overfishing problems


Sean Murphy, SeafoodSource online editor

Published on
February 25, 2015

A new report from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is linking ongoing issues with overfishing of endangered stocks and so-called “pirate fishing” to the ongoing scandal surrounding human trafficking and other labor abuses in Thailand’s fishing industry.

The report, “Pirates and Slaves — how overfishing in Thailand fuels human trafficking and the plundering of our oceans,” blames labor problems and negative impacts on fish stocks on the “international demand for cheap seafood.”

“Ecosystem decline and slavery exist in a vicious cycle,” said Steve Trent, EJF’s executive director. “Unrestricted industrial exploitation damages ecosystems and exposes vulnerable populations to trafficking and abuse. Overfishing exacerbates pirate fishing, which further drives slavery and environmental degradation. It is vital to address overfishing, pirate fishing and slavery in Thailand as one fundamentally interconnected problem.”

Growth in international markets, particularly the United States, for seafood produced in Thailand, dates back to the mid-1960s, according to the group’s report, and the growing demand has put pressure on producers and fishing groups in Thailand.

The report argues that the sudden surge in fishing activity included use of unsustainable methods and equipment. Not surprisingly, this led to a decline in fish stocks in Thai waters, which the report contends only added to the pressure to produce, leading to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and abuse of immigrant labor on fishing vessels by fishing boat owners who were desperate to remain competitive.

The EJF produced a report in 2013 that put a spotlight on the human trafficking issue. A year later, the British newspaper the Guardian produced its own investigation that charged Thailand’s CP Foods with using fishmeal produced by slave labor to feed its shrimp farms. Last summer, the United States State Department downgraded Thailand to Tier 3, the lowest grade possible in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which said Thailand had not done enough to stop human trafficking. The EJF has maintained that the department should keep Thailand at Tier 3 when releasing this year’s TIP report, scheduled to happen in June.

The EJF called for improved fisheries management in Thailand as the first step in solving the problem.

“The starting point must be an honest appraisal of the scale and extent of the social and environmental problems facing the Thai seafood industry,” he said. “All stakeholders must work together to ensure the protection of the oceans and marine life, and eradication of slavery at sea.”

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